The fourth edition of the Premier Badminton League (PBL 2018) is in its final phase, less than a week away from the grand finale on January 14th, 2018. It has been a riveting ten days for India’s top badminton tournament – with all the best players in the world competing for glory. After an exhausting international season, the badminton league serves as a great first tune-up for the year ahead.
This year’s PBL has added two extra teams to the group – the Ahmedabad Smash Masters (featuring H.S. Prannoy) and the North Eastern Warriors. So far, almost each of the eight teams has played out its 5 ties (consisting of 5 matches) – with there being only 2 ties left (out of 20) for the group stages.
Only the Hyderabad leg remains, after the completion of the Guwahati, New Delhi, Lucknow and Chennai legs. This will consist of the final two league ties, the two semifinal ties as well as the final on Sunday.
And surprise, surprise – newbies Ahmedabad remain the only team to have already qualified for the semifinals. They have 17 points from their 5 completed league ties.
What’s fascinating about this format, though, is that almost all the other 7 teams remain in consideration for the knockouts with just two days to go for the league stages.
The Mumbai Rockets – last year’s finalists – mathematically stand no chance of progressing, with just 10 points from their 5 ties, especially after yesterday’s walloping (0-5) by Ahmedabad Smash Masters.
Last year’s champions, P.V. Sindhu’s Chennai Smashers, lie in 5th position after their five ties, just below Saina Nehwal’s Awadhe Warriors who lie in fourth place after completing their ties. Sindhu’s Smashers stand no chance of progressing now because the two teams above the Warriors are too far ahead and can lose a maximum of only one point in their trump matches. Nehwal and her Warriors, however, will be praying that the final two ties in Hyderabad somehow unravel to leave them safe in fourth place (the final qualifying position) – an unlikely possibility.
Let’s simplify the permutations by exploring the final Hyderabad leg of PBL 2018:
January 10: Delhi Dashers vs North Eastern Warriors
Both these teams have their destinies in their own hands if they have to make the knockouts. Any of them can win a maximum of six points (including the trump match) in a tie – which means that the Dashers, as well as the Warriors, could finish on 17 points, a score that the qualified Ahmedabad Smash Masters finished with. It’s basically all or nothing for these two teams, who currently lie sixth and seventh in the table below the eliminated Chennai Smashers. Even a mere 3 points for either of them could take them above the Awadhe Warriors to 14, into the final fourth spot. Either way, one of them will qualify for the knockouts.
Prediction: The North Eastern Warriors have lost three of their four ties as far as the best-of-5-match format is concerned, but remain the only team to have won all four of their trump matches. It will be poetic if they manage to make their second win in the group stage count. They will need a little more consistency though, especially from their overseas imports Wang Tzu-wei and Michelle Li, while Ajay Jayaram will have to step up one last time to pull his team through. The Delhi Dashers are in scorching form, coming off a good run that includes 5-0 and 3-0 victories against Hyderabad Hunters and Chennai Smashers, after losing their first two ties by large margins. They are in the running – and will be favorites to defeat the Warriors and reach the knockouts.
January 11: Hyderabad Hunters vs Bengaluru Blasters
This is a huge one. This is the battle for No. 1. The Viktor Axelson-led Blasters are in second place on 15 points, in prime position to overtake Ahmedabad and end at the top of the table. The only problem is their ability to win the trump matches – they have won 2 and lost 2, and will need to improve on that rate in order to do just about enough to finish on top. Given Axelson’s form, this is very probable. It’s the others that will have to make sure that the Blasters, who have lost the least amount of matches so far (3), progress in style. But the Hunters, who will be playing in home territory, are no pushovers. After being blanked 5-0 by the Dashers on the last day of 2017, the only tie they have played in 2018 reads: 6-(-1) against the Awadhe Warriors. Olympic gold medalist Marin absolutely destroyed Nehwal in the tie – and will be keen to continue this rampage on Thursday evening. Even Parupalli Kashyap and Srikanth Kidambi, arguably the two top Indian male players, were defeated in the Hunters tie. B.S. Praneeth will be high on confidence after he defeated the Warriors’ Kidambi two days ago and will have to play the badminton of his life to defeat Axelson.
Prediction: Only 1 point separates the two teams right now. A win for either could mean a No. 1 position and an easier semi-final. My bet is on the Hyderabad Hunters to win 4-1, which could mean that they will finish at the top position, with Ahmedabad at being second, and at the third spot could be taken by the Blasters or the Dashers.
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